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Smothered mate

The end result of Philidor's Mate: 1.Qg8+ Rxg8 2.Nf7#

In chess, a smothered mate is a checkmate delivered by a knight in which the mated king is unable to move because he is surrounded (or smothered) by his own pieces.

The mate is usually seen in a corner of the board, since fewer pieces are needed to surround the king there. The most common form of smothered mate is seen in the diagram to the right. The knight on f7 delivers mate to the king on h8 which is prevented from escaping the check by the rook on g8 and the pawns on g7 and h7. Similarly, White can be mated with the white king on h1 and the knight on f2. Analogous mates on a1 and a8 are rarer, because kingside castling is the more common as it safely places the king closer to the corner than it would have the castling occurred on the queenside.

Introduction

Timman vs. Short, 1990
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Smothered mate after 27.Nf7+ Kg8 28.Nh6+ Kh8 29.Qg8+ Rxg8 30.Nf7#
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Final position

For a smothered mate of this sort to occur in a game, it is usually necessary to sacrifice material to compel pieces to smother the king - a player is unlikely to voluntarily surround his king with pieces in a position where a smothered mate is possible. One method is particularly common - an example is to be found in the game between Jan Timman (White) and Nigel Short (Black) at the 1990 Tilburg tournament. From the diagrammed position, play continued 27.Nf7+ Kg8 28.Nh6++ Kh8 29.Qg8+ Rxg8 30.Nf7#. The procedure is: check with the knight, then move the knight away to deliver a double check from the queen and knight, then sacrifice the queen to force the rook next to the king, then mate with the knight. (Note that White would force mate even if his rook, and his pawn on e7, were removed from the board, and Black had a knight on f6. In that case, 27.Nf7+ Kg8 28.Nh6++ Kh8 (28...Kf8 29.Qf7#) 29.Qg8+! Nxg8 (or 29...Rxg8) 30.Nf7 still mates.) This technique is so common as to have its own name: Philidor's Mate or Philidor's Legacy (after François-André Danican Philidor). This is something of a misnomer, however, as it is earlier described in Luis Ramirez Lucena's 1497 text on chess, Repetición de Amores e Arte de Axedrez, which predates Philidor by several hundred years.

In the opening

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Budapest mate

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Blackburne Shilling mate

Occasionally, a smothered mate may be possible in the opening of a game. One of the most famous, and most frequently occurring, is in the Budapest Gambit. It arises after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.Bf4 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bb4+ 6.Nbd2 Qe7 7.a3 Ngxe5 8.axb4?? Nd3# (final position at left). Note that the knight cannot be taken because the pawn on e2 is pinned to the white king by the black queen on e7. Another notorious example is the so-called "Blackburne Shilling Gambit" (named after the 19th century English player Joseph Henry Blackburne, supposedly because he used it to win shillings from amateurs). It goes: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4?! 4.Nxe5!? Qg5! 5.Nxf7?? Qxg2 6.Rf1 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Nf3# (final position at right). There is also a well-known trap in the Caro-Kann Defence: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Qe2!? Ngf6?? 6.Nd6#. This trap has claimed many victims, perhaps the earliest recorded example being Alekhine-Four Amateurs, simultaneous exhibition, Palma de Mallorca 1935.

Examples from games

Lasker vs. Horowitz, 1946
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Final position

An example of a similar smothered mate in master-level play is the game between Edward Lasker (White) and Israel Horowitz (Black) in New York City, 1946, which went: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 c5 4.c4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 e5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Nc3 d4 8.exd4 exd4 9.Nb5 Bb4+ 10.Bd2 0-0 11.Bxb4 Nxb4 12.Nbxd4 Qa5 13.Nd2 Qe5+ 14.Ne2 Nd3#.

Another example is the game between Unzicker and Sarapu, Siegen Olympiad 1970: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nc3 e6 5.Nxd5 exd5 6.d4 Nc6 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Qxd5 Qb6 9.Bc4 Bxf2+ 10.Ke2 0-0 11.Rf1 Bc5 12.Ng5 Nd4+ 13.Kd1 Ne6 14.Ne4 d6 15.exd6 Bxd6?? 16.Nxd6 Rd8 17.Bf4! Nxf4? 18.Qxf7+ Kh8 19.Qg8+! Sarapu now resigned in light of 19...Rxg8 20.Nf7#

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